Five Sustainable Building Materials that Could Transform Construction

As global populations increase, so too will the need for accommodation. However, current mainstream building methods are unsustainable, producing large amounts of CO2 both during construction and throughout a building’s life. Thankfully, sustainability is becoming a priority for developers, and with many exciting innovations happening in the construction industry, sustainably addressing global accommodation needs seems possible. Here’s five materials that could help:

1. Wool Bricks

Developed by Spanish and Scottish researchers with an aim to ‘obtain a composite that was more sustainable, non-toxic, using abundant local materials that would mechanically improve the bricks’ strength’, these wool bricks are exactly what the name suggests. Simply by adding wool and a natural polymer found in seaweed to the clay of the brick, the brick is 37% stronger than other bricks, and more resistant to the cold wet climate often found in Britain. They also dry hard, reducing the embodied energy as they don’t need to be fired like traditional bricks.

2. Solar Tiles

Traditional roof tiles are either mined from the ground or set from concrete or clay – all energy intensive methods. Once installed, they exist to simply protect a building from the elements despite the fact that they spend a large portion of the day absorbing energy from the sun. With this in mind, many companies are now developing solar tiles. Unlike most solar units which are fixed on top of existing roofing, solar tiles are fully integrated into the building, protecting it from the weather and generating power for its inhabitants.

3. Sustainable Concrete

Whilst 95% of a building’s CO2 emissions are a result of the energy consumed during its life, there is much that can be done to reduce that 5% associated with construction. Concrete is an ideal place to start, partly because almost every building uses it, but mostly due to the fact that concrete is responsible for a staggering 7-10% of global CO2 emissions. More sustainable forms of concrete exist that use recycled materials in the mix. Crushed glass can be added, as can wood chips or slag – a byproduct of steel manufacturing. Whilst these changes aren’t radically transforming concrete, by simply using a material that would have otherwise gone to waste, the CO2 emissions associated with concrete are reduced.

4. Paper Insulation

Image courtesy of curley house on flickr

Made from recycled newspapers and cardboard, paper-based insulation is a superior alternative to chemical foams. Both insect resistant and fire-retardant thanks to the inclusion of borax, boric acid, and calcium carbonate (all completely natural materials that have no associations with health problems), paper insulation can be blown into cavity walls, filling every crack and creating an almost draft-free space.

5. Triple-Glazed Windows

In fact, super-efficient windows would better describe this particular building material. The three layers of glass do a better job of stopping heat from leaving the building, with fully insulated window frames further contributing. In most double-glazed windows, the gas argon is injected between each layer of glass to aid insulation, but in these super-efficient windows, krypton – a better, but more expensive insulator – is used. In addition to this, low-emissivity coatings are applied to the glass, further preventing heat from escaping.

A building that combined all five of these methods would be an admirably sustainable option for housing. Whilst the construction industry tends to progress at a slow pace, the importance of sustainability is a high profile issue, and one which is only likely to increase. With sustainable building materials already fully developed, it is now up to consumers to actively demand their use and building developers to respond promptly.

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  • Maddy Moo

    Thank you ! Wow….who knew that recycled paper could be used in insulation. 😛 This website helped me in class so much. Thank you so much !!

  • taylor

    love it!!

    [email protected]

  • taylor


  • none

    please could you include 15 sustainable building metrials please

    • saleem

      no go away

  • ergodesk

    I’m not convinced that this list is correct, Polystyrene Foam is very High on my list and should be on your’s.

  • Anthony James

    I’d like to see links to the specific products to learn more.

  • Dave

    Concrete adds very little CO2 to the atmosphere. Please learn the difference between Concrete and Cement… Adding crushed glass to concrete can set it up for alkali silica reactivity (ASR), which can destroy the structure internally. Please do not recommend glass in concrete.

  • Richard Grabowski

    SIP panels are some of the highest rated energy saving materials available, zerohouse, passive, leed rated. Now availabel across the world. Cement consumes incredible amounts of energy to produce and transport. Check out IADDIC

  • DC

    I’ve become suspicious of that word ‘sustainable’ which is used way too much, like the words ‘bigger’ and ‘better’ was used in the advertisements of the 50’s through the following decades. It’s become meaningless. As for these ‘innovations’ — something like these innovations were introduced in the 80s, and eventually buildings made with ‘innovations’ intended to be energy savers turned out to create ‘sick building’ syndrome in people who worked in such offices. Only time will tell whether these are really good innovations. In the mean time, the ‘style’ does not look as if they belong in Santa Cruz. This is ‘urbanist’ woo woo that can be found all over the world. You’ll find it in North America, Europe, Latin America, Japan; you can go from urbanist city in one continent to another urbanist city and feel you’re in the same place… Is that the kind of city anybody wants to live in?
    I love the sandstone building on Pacific Avenue, and those old used-to-be-banks that now serve other purposes. Why can’t we have nice things and still be ‘sustainable’ and ‘energy-saving’ at the same time?

    • gewaite

      Because these old buildings were built with much cheaper labor and very cheap gasoline and were designed for much lower energy costs in mind.